Harriet Baker wins Tony Lothian Prize

The Tony Lothian Prize, for the best proposal for a first biography, has gone to Harriet Baker for Rural Hours: Interwar Female Writers, Landscape and Living. Baker received the £2,000 prize at the Biographers’ Club Christmas party, held at Albany in Central London.

Rural Hours is a collective biography that explores the rural lives of female writers – Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Rosamond Lehmann, Rose Macaulay and Dorothy Richardson – in the period covering the two world wars.

The judges were Alex Clark, Lindsay Duguid and Edmund Gordon. They said: “Harriet Baker’s proposal is rich in potential, promising to change our perspective on the writers in question, and refreshing in its radical approach.”

Baker grew up in Leicestershire, and now lives in London. Her book reviews appear regularly in the TLS, and she writes about art for the Financial Times, Apollo, and frieze. She studied English Literature at the University of Oxford, then at King’s College London. She is represented by Harriet Moore at David Higham Associates.

The Tony Lothian Prize, run by the Biographers’ Club, is sponsored by the Duchess of Buccleuch in memory of her mother, Antonella, Marchioness of Lothian, OBE (1922-2007).

Photo: Harriet Baker (left) with Lindsay Duguid, with Biographers’ Club chair Jane Ridley in the background

Tony Lothian Prize – the 2018 shortlist

Harriet Baker
Rural Hours: Interwar Female Writers, Landscape and Living
Rural Hours is a collective biography that explores the rural lives of female writers in the period covering the two world wars. Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Rosamond Lehmann, Rose Macaulay and Dorothy Richardson all spent time in the countryside, experiencing the rural life as emancipating, whether creatively, psychologically or sexually. In their diaries and letters, they explore the productive tensions between creativity and domesticity, mobility and rootedness, and urban sociability and rural solitude. The text is structured around snapshots of these writers’ lives, exploring how rural life offered radical ways of living and writing – and friendship. For all five writers were connected, through correspondence, criticism, and creativity.

Susan Karen Burton
Gaijin: Modern Japan Through Western Eyes
Gaijin (meaning foreigner) is a group biography exploring the lives and careers of Westerners who have made it in Japan. They include an American who runs a Buddhist temple, a Liverpudlian who is Japan’s only foreign female rakugoka (traditional comic storyteller), a British animal rights activist who founded Japan’s best-known rescue centre, the British founder of a ‘Great British’ baking school, an American academic who uncovered Japan’s biggest archaeological hoax – and a handful of other interlopers into Japan’s uniquely curious and idiosyncratic culture. Their stories are humorous, sometimes tragic, but always compelling, and they throw a sharp focus on Japan’s elaborate system of rules, beliefs and practices – as we prepare for the 2020 summer Olympics.

Patrick Donovan
Who Killed Arnold Bennett? The Wife, the Mistress and Virginia Woolf
When he died in 1931, aged 63, from typhoid, Arnold Bennett was the nationally acclaimed author of 84 novels, plays and self-help books, a powerful figure in public life – and, of course, immortalised by the omelette that bears his name. He has a claim to be considered the 20th century’s first celebrity. Yet the man behind the headlines was an enigma to even his closest friends. Donovan tells the story of his life – and teases out his character – through his relationships with three women: his rebarbative battle with Virginia Woolf; his long affair with the woefully under-talented actress Dorothy Cheston; and his volatile marriage to Marguerite, who cuckolded him but refused to divorce him and clung onto her position as wife through thick and thin.

Susan Dunne
Parallel Lives: The Literary Friendship of Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Gaskell
Parallel Lives is a portrait of one of the most significant friendships of the 19th century, between the two foremost women writers of their day. Drawing on their correspondence and contemporary accounts, it gives an intimate portrait of the challenges, hopes, fears and risks inherent in women’s lives at the time – particularly those sharing the struggles of writing in a man’s world, and the onslaught of critics. However, the friendship between Gaskell and Bronte developed beyond their shared writing interests, set as it was against the background of the Crimean War, the Great Exhibition, and the vexed question of the position of women. Dunne also explores the role of Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte, for which she would be praised and demonised in equal measure, in shaping our view of the Brontes today.

Katharine Campbell
Behold the Dark Gray Man: The Life and Times of Sholto, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside
How did William Sholto Douglas get from the hardships of an impoverished childhood to a glittering career as a trailblazing aviator, Marshall of the Air Force and Peer of the Realm? Along the way he was awarded the Military Cross and numerous other honours, presided at the Nuremberg Trials, served as Military Governor of Germany and chairman of BEA, and did everything in his power to foster peace and prosperity in post-war Europe and the wider world. Nevertheless, throughout his dashing and ever-more-distinguished career he was pursued by demons – what would now be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – that stalked him into old age. His daughter Katharine Campbell has brought all her training in neuroscience to this account of her father’s extraordinary life, which spanned many of the key events of the 20th century, but whose triumphs were offset by the shadows of mental illness to the end.